27 June 2008

Sticky, Nutty, Sweetness

These are probably the most indulgent sweets I've made yet. I'd found the recipe on Celine's site way back in October 2007, printed it out, and kept it in my big "To-do" pile since then. Before I go any further, I just have to say that I'm a HUGE fan of Celine's blog. Someone really needs to "discover" her and offer a gigantic cookbook deal.

That said, on with the deliciousness.

When I first made these (as you can see from the photos), they were pretty sticky. They also didn't set well at room temperature and were way too sweet. Well, duh, Deb. I hadn't cut the agave nectar appropriately. However, the addition of melted carob chips to the top of the batch helped bring some cohesiveness to the candy. It also reminded folks of a combination of Reese's pb cups and Nestle's Crunch bars. What could be bad?

I made a few alterations to her recipe -- pretty much all the ingredients -- and a few directions as well. By the way, it may seem like a few directions, but the whole recipe takes only about 20 minutes to make (except for the chilling time). So, please go check the original, but here how I made them after I adjusted (post-photos) for stickiness and sweetness.

Peanut Butter Crispy Brown Rice Treats


3 cups crisp brown rice cereal (I use Erewhon gluten-free, organic. It's great and marginally sweetened with brown rice syrup -- less than 1 g of sugars per serving.)
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter (Any nut butter is good here. My next try will use cashew.)
Scant 1/3 cup agave nectar (You might even want to use less since a little goes a long way here.)
1 cup unsweetened carob chips


1. Line an 8-in. pan with parchment paper. You may need to put some heavy things in the pan until you're ready to use it so that the paper stays in place.
2. If you keep your peanut butter in the refrigerator (like we do), heat it until it's easily spreadable (about 20 seconds in the microwave). Just don't cook it.
3. In a large bowl, blend the peanut butter and agave nectar until smooth.
4. Mix in the brown rice cereal until it's completely coated with the peanut butter mixture.
5. Here's where it gets messy. Scoop the mixture into your prepared pan. Lightly wet your fingers or use a lightly oil-sprayed spatula to press it all into the pan evenly. Set the pan aside for a few minutes. It will be fine.
6. Using either a double-boiler or a microwave, heat the carob chips until they're melted. Whisk until the carob is smooth.
7. Pour the melted carob over the candy in the pan and chill covered for at least an hour.

8. Using the edges of the parchment paper, lift the candy out of the pan and cut it into squares. If you don't want the carob to "break" (which mine did because I didn't do this), heat your knife with hot water prior to cutting.
9. Enjoy!

23 June 2008

Product Review: Agave-Sweetened Bumble Bars

BumbleBar is such a cool company. They use only organic ingredients, and more than 70% of those ingredients come from worker-owned cooperatives. Not only that, but their bars are very tasty.

Recently, the 13-year-old company added four new agave-sweetened bars to their collection: Awesome Apricot, Chunky Cherry, Tasty Tropical, and Cherry Chocolate.

Since chocolate is on my no-eat list, I just tried the apricot, cherry, and tropical flavors. When I opened the first package, I noted that the bar is pretty flat. Also, it tends to bend pretty easily, so it's handy for pulling off small bits at a time.

All of the bars are pretty seedy -- and by that I mean that they have plenty of sesame seeds. They're also a bit on the sweet side (for me, so I just had a small portion at a time) and quite sticky from the agave nectar. Keep that in mind for car eating. You might want to put a couple of wet naps in your glove compartment.

Overall, I really enjoyed the flavors and the seediness of the bars. They also tasted so fresh. It was nice to try a new choice for a healthy, organic energy bar, especially from family-run, ethical company.

20 June 2008

Great Craters of Almond and Raspberry Joy

In honor of Michael Ruhlman's pronouncement that Baking with Agave Nectar by Ania Catalano is a "book worth reading and using," I made another recipe from the book.

The cookies above are found on page 21 of her book, under the title "Raspberry Linzer Torte Cookies." The folks at the George Street Co-op's Outreach Committee said many complimentary things about them, however none of them said the cookies reminded them of linzer anything.

Most of the samplers remarked that the texture was appealing -- crumbly and soft. They also had lovely things to say about the fruit-sweetened raspberry spread I used from Trader Joe's. Because it's a nice little vegan recipe with only 7 ingredients, and because it's done completely in the food processor, I'd bet the raw folks could easily make it in a dehydrator. I went the traditional route and baked them for 12 minutes.

Because I didn't make any alterations to the recipe (other than toasting the almonds prior to processing them), I won't list it here. Instead, I'll encourage you to order the book, especially since it's only $10.85 new on Amazon.com. I agree with Ruhlman, it's well worth the money.

18 June 2008

Back to the Beginning, or Close to It

This morning, I finished reading "Julie & Julia," indeed a book all food bloggers should read, if they haven't already. Although I never bought Mastering the Art of French Cooking (not the book of choice for vegetarians, vegans and folks who prefer not to eat offal for their own reasons), I still recognize the mastery of Julia Child. I also have a great admiration for Julie's tenacity as well as her writing.

Yes, the book is three years old already and yes, I know (and am so excited to hear) that Julie's book will be made into a film with Meryl Streep playing Julia Child (can you imagine?). However, reading about how the Julie/Julia Project originated and what it did to change Julie Powell's life reminded me of why I started this Altered Plates project in the first place. Albeit, I wasn't quite in the middle of an existential crisis 14 months ago when I began this blog as an alternate to Here and There so I could focus solely on the agave-nectar side of my life.

But, there are some similarities. At the end of 2006, my life changed dramatically in three different ways:

1. John proposed (well, this wasn't so much of a huge change, but a fait accompli, since we were already living under the same roof the way married folks do).
2. I lost my job (technically, it was a "mutual separation," but the details are a lot more murky than that).
3. My life became filled with more interesting work than I'd ever imagined.

At the same time, I re-focused my energies on my tiny chocolate business, Deb's Delectables. Because the chocolate I use for Deb's Delectables is already sweetened, and because the fillings I created were made using sugar, I couldn't actually taste any of them. It's the great irony of that tiny business. Of course, I had many willing (and quite critical) volunteers to taste all the creations, but what I found myself focusing more on was the appearance of the candy, rather than the taste (since most folks seemed to really enjoy the chocolates).

But ever since I started Deb's Delectables, I wanted to make carob candy sweetened with something other than those artificial sweeteners and natural sweeteners that had such negative effects on my digestive and central nervous systems. It's taken quite a while, but I'm finally doing it.

As of last week, I began selling my carob-agave candy at my local health food co-op, George Street Co-op. I still need to update the Deb's Delectables site to reflect that, but I will soon. Additionally, the store manager, Janet, told me that she'd be very happy to carry my agave-sweetened baked goods as well, but preferred that I stick to vegan recipes, if possible.

Well, that's where the challenge comes in, doesn't it? I need to develop a carob coating from scratch that doesn't contain dairy or non-agave sweeteners. But, as you know, I love a challenge.

So, chronicling my baking/cooking adventures with agave nectar here has brought me all kinds of positive change -- from the remarkable folks who continue to visit and read the blog on a regular basis (and leave such nice comments -- really you people are lovely!) to the numerous opportunities I wouldn't have had otherwise. Visiting other bloggers along the way, I've noticed an increasing frequency of agave nectar in recipes, which makes this even more worthwhile.

Most of all, keeping this blog has given me a weekly focal point, even updated while I was in bed recovering from surgery (I'd baked like a madwoman prior to it in order to have blog topics for weeks while I was off my feet). Despite all the exciting and not-so-exciting (and perhaps downright scary) events of my life in the past year, keeping the Altered Plates project (as well as the Here and There blog) running reminds me that I'm really not so different from the talented Julie Powell and the other food bloggers who keep their readers and their online projects as high priorities in their lives.

As always, thanks for visiting and thanks for your feedback in the comments section.

14 June 2008

Agave Nectar Article in Time Magazine

For those of you who have been following the meteoric rise of agave nectar in the past 6-12 months, you might be interested in reading this article in Time magazine.

The story mentions that agave nectar represents a $10.3 million market (up 50% from 2006). It also discusses the difference between the Madhava brand and Wholesome Sweeteners (which might also be the private labeler for Trader Joe's, but I'm not solid on that).

Recently, someone asked me to provide sales figures on agave nectar, and I'll tell you, I'm glad Time did my homework for me. ;D

I'm not sure how long they'll leave the story available for free, but if the link expires, just let me know, and I'll email you a PDF of the story.

10 June 2008

Product Review: Gaby's Gourmet Granola

I'm fortunate to be a working member of my local health food co-op, the George Street Co-op. During one of my working days late last month, I sampled a package of Gaby's Gourmet Granola in the Pine Nut Anise flavor. I was happily surprised to read that Gaby uses agave nectar (along with brown rice syrup) to sweeten the granola. Although I could have done without the brown rice syrup, I really enjoyed the flavor of the granola straight from the bag.

I didn't have many pine nuts in my package, but could definitely taste the anise flavor with the nuts, oats and sesame seeds.

As the year progresses, I see more and more companies adopting agave nectar as a sweetener. It's heartening to see because it gives folks like me (sensitive to sugar) many more options. On the other hand, it just makes it that much more challenging to count calories.

What about you? Have you noticed more news articles and products with agave where you live? Please let me know.

05 June 2008

Carob Almond Fudge

It's been quite a stretch since I made carob fudge this good. It's rich, nutty, and worthy of tiny bites. OK, big bites, too. But, be mindful of the calories. It's not low fat.

This fudgy candy is a breeze to make:


1.5 cups unsweetened carob chips
1/2 cup cashew macadamia nut butter (or your favorite nut butter)
scant 1/2 cup agave nectar
3/4 cup toasted almonds


1. Melt the chips in the top of a double boiler (or a bowl on top of a pot half filled with simmering water). Stir until smooth.
2. Mix in the nut butter until smooth.
3. Mix in the agave until well blended.
4. Fold in the nuts. I didn't chop mine, but next time I will.
5. Either press the fudge into an 8-in pan lined with parchment paper or mini muffin pans lined with mini liners.
6. Chill until set, then let come back to room temperature to enjoy.

03 June 2008

Zippy, Fizzy, Agave-Sweetened Soft Drink

It's hard to say if drinking Brain Toniq has sharpened me up any after drinking it, but what I can say without hesitation is that it tastes great and I enjoy it. I also like the fact that it's not overly carbonated or sweetened, as most soft drinks tend to be. Brain Toniq reminds me of freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice with lemon and lime overtones.

The 8.4 oz wee cans are just right for a quick pick-me-up and are only 80 calories each.

Besides the fact that Brain Toniq is gently sweetened with organic agave nectar, I like that it's made with pure herbs such as Eleuthero Root extract and Rhodiola root powder. It also contains Choline, blue-green algae, and DMAE. It's important to note that all the ingredients used in Brain Toniq come from plant sources, so my vegan friends can try this without any worries.

Overall, it's a pleasure to drink Brain Toniq, and if it's able to help me focus in any way, that's just a bonus I'm willing to accept.

02 June 2008

Ricki's Cookies

I saw these cookies on Ricki's blog and thought "I have got to make these. They're simple and I can substitute agave nectar 1 for 1 with the maple syrup."

They're really a breeze to make. My only substitution was the agave for the maple syrup. And, I dropped the oven temp to 325 degrees F to avoid the quick browning that seems to happen with agave recipes. That only added two extra minutes to the baking time.

The result? Well, they're all gone. I made them yesterday and ate all 15 of them in the last 24 hours. Thank goodness the only fat comes from a small amount of tahini and the walnuts.

Go visit Ricki's blog for the complete recipe (and to see her gorgeous dogs).